Months ago, I gave a 50 minute Power Point presentation about Mother Teresa in my Catholicism class coupled with a clip from Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! television show. I wanted to show the Christopher Hitchens documentary about Mother Teresa, but the teacher said that the caricature of Mother Teresa in the background was a “character attack” and I wasn’t able to show the documentary. Anyway, I’d love to burst the bubble of many people who think Mother Teresa was an awesome individual because she possessed and advanced and twisted morality and did a tremendous amount of harm to the world. This post won’t be something like an essay, but will touch on many different topics and reference several sources and quotes by Mother Teresa herself. Enjoy.
So many Catholics, people of other religions, and even many who hold no religious beliefs laud “Mother Teresa” (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu) as one of the most moral and upstanding individuals who ever walked this earth. People think that Mother Teresa’s life mission was to help the poor, end poverty, and make this world a better place to live in. People think that donations to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity group (formerly known as Nuns on the Dole) were going to help starving people in Calcutta and other poor areas in the world…but they’re all wrong. Author Christopher Hitchens says that “everything you think you know about Mother Teresa is wrong” (unless, of course, you know about the stuff I’m about to post).
The idea of Mother Teresa being one of the most moral individuals who ever lived is often taken for granted. People utter statements like, “Be like Mother Teresa,” “Well, I’m no Mother Teresa, but I do what I can to help people,” etc. Bookstores have many, many, many books lauding Mother Teresa and putting her up on a pedestal. The facts point to a different conclusion and reveal a woman who bamboozled millions, glorified suffering, and had a life mission to fight against contraceptives and abortions.
Mother Teresa wasn’t interested in helping the poor and ending poverty, but rather wanted to experience suffering like Jesus did and revel in it; suffering is being touched by God and being kissed by Jesus in the eyes of Mother Teresa. What many people thought were houses to help the homeless and dying that Mother Teresa established were nothing more than crude hospices with terrible living conditions. People were forced to shave their heads, sleep on military style cots, weren’t given much medical attention at all save injections from needles that weren’t cleaned after use, and even had to give up their children if they wanted to stay. Millions of dollars were donated to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity group…people probably thought that hospitals were being funded, schools were being built, and people were actually being helped, but this wasn’t the case.
A 1994 journal of The Lancet focused on the conditions of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity building,
There are doctors who call in from time to time but usually the sisters and volunteers (some of whom have medical knowledge) make decisions as best they can. I saw a young man who had been admitted in poor shape with high fever, and the drugs prescribed had been tetracycline and paracetamol. Later a visiting doctor diagnosed probable malaria and substituted chloroquine. Could not someone have looked at a blood film? Investigations, I was told, are seldom permissible. How about simple algorithms that might help the sisters and volunteers distinguish the curable from the incurable? Again no. Such systematic approaches are alien to the ethos of the home. Mother Teresa prefers providence to planning; her rules are designed to prevent any drift toward materialism: the sisters must remain on equal terms with the poor…Finally, how competent are the sisters at managing pain? On a short visit, I could not judge the power of their spiritual approach, but I was disturbed to learn that the formulary includes no strong analgesics. Along with the neglect of diagnosis, the lack of good analgesia marks Mother Teresa’s approach as clearly separate from the hospice movement. I know which I prefer (Hitchens 38-39).
Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity group had tremendous amounts of funds to build hospitals, buy painkillers, and get competent medical authorities to help the sick, but this wasn’t done. Mother Teresa, though, had heart problems and many complications due to her old age and sought medical attention in well-financed hospitals. In a filmed interview, Mother Teresa spoke of a person who was tremendously suffering with cancer. She said, “You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you” (Hitchens 41).
In a San Francisco outlet of the Missionaries of Charity named “The Gift of Love,” Mother Teresa housed homeless men with HIV. A reporter from the San Francisco Review of Books had the following to say about MT’s place,
I found a dozen or so very sick men; but those who weren’t very sick were exceptionally depressed, because they were not allowed to watch TV or smoke or drink or have friends over. Even when they are dying, close friends are not allowed. They are never allowed to drink, even (or especially) at the funerals of their friends and roommates and some have been thrown out for coming home in drag! When I mentioned the Olympics to them, they looked even more depressed. ‘We are not watching the Olympics,’ said a sister from Bombay, ‘because we are making our Lenten sacrifice.’ When they’re very sick and very religious (which is often the case…) this doesn’t matter, but with brighter men it seems intolerable.
A Guatemalan writer that I befriended there was desperate to get out, so a friend of mine who also cooks there (an African American who is a practicing Catholic) adopted him for as long as she could. He became much sicker and when she begged him to go back because she couldn’t mind him, he begged her to keep him because he knew they didn’t medicate enough, or properly, and was afraid he would have to die without morphine … I am now cooking occasionally for the homeless men at the Franciscans where one of the patients, Bruce, is an ex-Mother Teresa and neither he nor the priest have a good word to say for the Sisters at ‘The Gift of Love’ (Hitchens 43).
In the early 90s and late 80s, Mother Teresa befriended an anti-pornography crusader and a loan tycoon named Charles Keating. He was convicted of multiple counts of fraud and various charges because he stole money and swindled over $252 million from people. Keating gave MT over one million dollars that was stolen from investors and allowed her to use his private jet. MT testified as a witness in court on behalf of Keating who was easily convicted. After the trial, the court sent a letter to Mother Teresa and asked her to return this money that Keating gave MT. The money was never returned.
MT also met with a dictator and his wife in Haiti who was hated by the poor. MT accepted the Legion of Honor award from “Baby Doc” Duvalier and his wife Michele and said that she had “never seen the poor people being so familiar with their head of state as they were with her. It was a beautiful lesson for me” (Hitchens 5). She also had the following to say, “Madame President is someone who feels, who knows, who wishes to demonstrate her love not only with words but also with concrete and tangible actions” (Hitchens 4).
According to this link,
Between 1964 and 1986 Haiti was ruled by the corrupt and oppressive Duvalier family. Loans incurred during this period alone are estimated to account for approximately 40% of Haiti’s debt. These funds were used to strengthen the Duvaliers control over Haiti and for various fraudulent schemes. Large amounts were simply stolen by the Duvaliers. Although donor countries and institutions were aware of the misappropriation of funds, it was tolerated so long as the Duvaliers stayed in the anti-communist camp.
In addition to the documentary linked above, Christopher Hitchens also authored a book about Mother Teresa called “The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice.” Mother Teresa once met Hilary Clinton in Washington in a poor ghetto known as Anacostia. Mother Teresa wanted to build a Missionaries of Charity headquarters, but the people were upset. Here is a quote from one of Mother Teresa’s assistants,
They [The men] told Mother Teresa that Anacostia needed decent jobs, housing, and security – not charity. Mother didn’t argue with them; she just listened. Finally, one of them asked her what she was going to do here. Mother said: ‘First we must learn to love one another.’ They didn’t know what to say to that (Hitchens 10).
Mother Teresa later had a press conference about what she intended to do in the ghetto. Here are some words from the conference:
[person asking a question] “Mother Teresa, what do you hope to accomplish here?”
[MT] The joy of loving and being loved.”
[person] “That takes a lot of money, doesn’t it?”
[MT] “It takes a lot of sacrifice.”
[person] “Do you teach the poor to endure their lot?”
[MT] “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people” (Hitchens 11).
You might think that quotes like this are quite out of place. Perhaps you might think I’m “taking them out of context, but this isn’t the case.” Here are some more:
“We are misunderstood, we are misrepresented, we are misreported. We are not nurses, we are not doctors, we are not teachers, we are not social workers. We are religious, we are religious, we are religious.” – Mother Teresa
“Many people are very very concerned with the children of India, with the children of Africa where quite a few die of hunger, and so on. Many people are also concerned about all the violence in this great country of the United States. These concerns are very good. But often these same people are not concerned with the millions who are killed by the deliberate decision of their own mothers. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today – abortion which brings people to such blindness.” -Mother Teresa National Prayer Breakfast, Washington DC, 3 February 1994 [So, after everything she has seen in the world, she thinks abortion is the “greatest destroyer of peace?]
A Message For The World Conference On Women, Beijing, China
(Read By Mercedes Wilson of The Family Of The Americas)
by Mother Teresa
Humanitarian/Nobel Peace Prize 1971
“That special power of loving that belongs to a woman is seen most clearly when she becomes a mother. Motherhood is the gift of God to women. How grateful we must be to God for this wonderful gift that brings such joy to the whole world, women and men alike! Yet we can destroy this gift of motherhood, especially by the evil of abortion, but also by thinking that other things like jobs or positions are more important than loving, than giving oneself to others.”
“No job, no plans, no possessions, no idea of “freedom” can take the place of love. So anything that destroys God’s gift of motherhood destroys His most precious gift to women – the ability to love as a woman.”
“Those who deny the beautiful differences between men and women are not accepting themselves as God has made them, and so cannot love the neighbour. They will only bring division, unhappiness and destruction of peace to the world.”
“For example, as I have often said, abortion is the greatest destroyer of peace in the world today, and those who want to make women and men the same are all in favour of abortion.”
Aroup Chetterjee is an Indian-born physician who is now working in England. He is the author of his eight-year project, the book Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict. He uses various recorded conversations, media outlets, hard data, and personal experience cited in his book. I’ll cite some examples of Mother Teresa’s failures and bad policies from his book.
On 30 August 1996, at around 5 p.m., a ‘very poor’ woman, Noor Jehan (name slightly changed at her own request), was wailing at the top of her voice. She had with her, her two children, both girls, the younger one about 10 months and the older about 2 years old. The 10 month old was obviously suffering with diarrhoea and was ill; the 2 year old was miserable and fed up and was lying on the pavement, screaming.
Noor Jehan’s entreaties for help were not entertained by the nuns – the door remained firmly shut in her face. The baby’s hungry wails were ignored. The local shopkeepers took pity on the woman and gave her some tea and bread; somebody brought some milk for the children.
By the time that I arrived at 5 p.m., a small crowd of about a dozen people had gathered and had turned quite hostile towards the nuns. After a lot of loud banging, a nun appeared at the door.
I asked her why they would not give the woman and her children some food, and shelter for that night only. The nun explained that they could do that, but only after the mother had handed over the absolute rights of her children to the Missionaries of Charity. In other words, the ‘form of renunciation’ had to be signed, or in this case, had to be imprinted with the impression of Noor Jehan’s left thumb.
Noor Jehan became hysterical at the mention of ‘signing over’ her children, and told the nun what she thought of her, which is untranslatable and unprintable. About 7 p.m., Noor Jehan left Shishu Bhavan, disappearing into an uncertain Calcutta night, probably to go back to her violent husband.
(Chapter 2 Pages 16-17)
“They [the people in the Home for the Dying in Calcutta] are forced to defaecate and urinate communally.
They are given only the simplest possible treatments, such as simple painkillers for the intractable pain of terminally ill residents.
Gloves and more importantly, needles are routinely re-used when deadly diseases are rife within this population.
It has to be borne in mind that the home for the dying in Calcutta is a very small operation, catering to less than 100 people — is it not legitimate to expect a minimum decent standard for these few people?”
(Deposition Page 3)
Later in life, Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize and gave a short speech to many people in an audience. The speech contained various awkward and alarming statements:
“These are things that break peace, but I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing – direct murder by the mother herself.”
“And today the greatest means – the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion.”
“Many people are very, very concerned with the children in India, with the children in Africa where quite a number die, maybe of malnutrition, of hunger and so on, but millions are dying deliberately by the will of the mother. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today.”
“And these are people who maybe have nothing to eat, maybe they have not a home where to live, but they are great people….”
“One evening we went out and we picked up four people from the street. And one of them was in a most terrible condition – and I told the Sisters: You take care of the other three, I take of this one that looked worse. So I did for her all that my love can do. I put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand, as she said one word only: Thank you – and she died.”
“There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do.”
“It is to God Almighty – how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.”
“… a little boy of four years old, Hindu boy, went home and told his parents: I will not eat sugar for three days, I will give my sugar to Mother Teresa for her children. After three days his father and mother brought him to our home. I had never met them before, and this little one could scarcely pronounce my name, but he knew exactly what he had come to do. He knew that he wanted to share his love.”
“A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they had not eaten for so long – do something. So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children – their eyes shining with hunger – I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger…”
“I didn’t bring more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing. But there were those children, radiating joy, sharing the joy with their mother because she had the love to give. And you see this is where love begins – at home.”
“We have a home for the dying in Calcutta, where we have picked up more than 36,000 people only from the streets of Calcutta, and out of that big number more than 18,000 have died a beautiful death. They have just gone home to God; and they came to our house and we talked of love, of compassion, and then one of them asked me: Say, Mother, please tell us something that we will remember, and I said to them: Smile at each other, make time for each other in your family.”
Chatterjee disagrees with Mother Teresa’s “big number” of “more than 18,000” people.
“Mother Teresa frequently said that her nuns ‘pick[ed] up’ people from the streets of Calcutta. She said it in her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize.”
“Mother’s ‘big number’ was wrong, but more importantly, her basic premise of ‘picking up’ people is entirely false. If the situation demanded, Mother put it more poignantly: ‘Maybe if I had not picked up that one person dying on the street, I would not have picked up the thousands.”
“The sad truth is, Mother Teresa’s organisation does not pick up people from the streets of Calcutta – no, not beggars, not lepers, not destitutes, not the poorest of the poor who she loved so much; they do not even pick up the babies and children of these people. They do possess the resources to remove destitutes from the streets, but they do not utilise them.”
“The Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta possess a small fleet of ‘ambulances’, many of them donated by businesses and individuals. These vehicles are painted to appear as ambulances and are fitted with red beacons; they are exempt from traffic regulations. But their main or sole function is to provide a taxi service for the nuns.”
“In my time, I have never seen an ‘ambulance’ carry a patient or a destitute. Indeed, most of them do not have the provision to carry a stretcher, for the rails on the floor have been removed. The seats on the sides have been replaced by patterned sofas for the nuns to sit on.”
(Chapter 2 Page 6-7)
“Apart from the myth of regularly ‘picking up’ people from the streets, the other serious misinformation she spread in her Nobel speech was about the number of babies born less because of her programme of natural contraception.”
“She claimed that 61,273 fewer babies were born in Calcutta in the previous six years because she was promoting natural contraception among the poor and the slum-dwellers. This figure was pure invention. The figure of 61,273 became 134,000 in June 1981 in Washington D.C.”
“In 1982, during the Ian Gall interview for Scottish Television, when Mr Gall pinned her down (albeit with great deference) on her views on artificial contraception and an absolute opposition to abortion, she blithely came out with the monstrous lie: ‘In last 10 years we had 1 million babies less in Calcutta [due to my method].‘”
(Chapter 2 Page 12)
Mother Teresa lied about many figures and practices as Chatterjee mentioned.
“Many people tell me that Mother Teresa should be left alone because she did ‘something’ for the underprivileged. I do not deny that she did. However her reputation, which was to a good extent carefully built up by herself, was not on a ‘something’ scale. More importantly, that ‘something’, at least in Calcutta, was quite little…”
“Even more importantly, she had turned away many many more than she had helped – although she had claimed throughout her life that she was doing everything for everybody.”
“There was a stupendous discrepancy between her image and her work, between her words and her deeds; that she, helped by others of course, engaged in a culture of deception.”
(Introduction Page 4)
Chatterjee sums up his “final verdict” on Mother Teresa quite nicely. People have a tremendously flawed view of Mother Teresa and she really didn’t do much at all to help the poor. She made conditions for the poor worse and reveled in others’ suffering. Why didn’t Mother Teresa set up a program to actually fight poverty, educate people, provide food to the masses, build hospitals, etc? She had millions of dollars that were mainly used to educate nuns, fill the coffers of the Vatican, and travel around the world to shake hands with dictators, presidents, queens, denigrate women, and try to stop abortions and contraceptives in Ireland.
As a last defense for Mother Teresa, people might try to cast her as a misguided victim who knew no better, but this doesn’t excuse her behavior and twisted morality. She surely had doubts about her faith as evidenced near the end of her life, so she was certainly capable of thinking about her faith and her actions. She certainly wasn’t ignorant of other perspectives if she wrote about how she doubted God. Let’s not laud Mother Teresa as the greatest human being who ever existed because she clearly wasn’t.